Sunday Territorian

All the world’s a stage

Sailor backs Suaalii move

- Julian Linden and Jamie Pandaram

Code-hopping pioneer Wendell Sailor has backed JosephAuku­so Suaalii’s decision to quit the NRL and switch to rugby, telling the gifted teenager nothing matches the experience of playing on the global stage.

A legend who played at the highest level in both codes, Sailor said he expects more NRL stars will soon follow Suaalii in defecting to rugby because the combinatio­n of better pay and the lure of appearing in a home World Cup was too good an opportunit­y to turn down.

Like Suaalii, Sailor copped plenty of flak when he decided to jump ship in a blaze of publicity two decades ago.

Sailor had already scaled the heights in rugby league – winning four premiershi­ps with Brisbane two State of Origin series with Queensland and a rugby league World Cup with the Kangaroos – but gave it up because rugby offered him a unique challenge.

The Wallabies were the biggest drawcard in Australian sport at the time, having won the World Cup for the second time in 1999 and boasting a team jam packed with household names, including fellow league imports Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri.

All three were selected for the Wallabies and started in the 2003 World Cup final, which Australia lost to England in extra-time.

“Not for a minute do I regret it,” Sailor said.

“I played 37 Tests for the Wallabies and I got to see the world. I got to play the All Blacks, I got to play in South Africa, I got to play France, Italy, Ireland all those teams. “You can’t buy that.”

Sailor still follows both codes and hopes for a truce in the war of words that has erupted since Suaalii announced he was going to rugby, saying it was unfair on the players.

“I saw Phil Gould sort of went at him, but what the critics misunderst­and is that this kid is putting his body on the line,” Sailor said.

“You can’t play forever so I encourage players to do what they want to do and get what they get because it’s up to them and their families.”

But Sailor did add a cautionary warning to any NRL forwards thinking about going over to union, with reports Brisbane Broncos enforcer Payne Haas has been approached.

“I want Payne Haas to stay in rugby league,” Sailor said.

“If rugby union gets him, good luck to them but I think he’d be a waste in union.”

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